Randall Urban, MD
Vice President for Research &
Chief Research Officer

Dr. Randall Urban

Dr. Randall Urban leads a diverse research community in the bold mission to improve medical practice through progressive translational research endeavors. He has 145 peer-review publications, is the Principal Investigator of UTMB's Clinical and Translational Science Award, and has 3 major research interests funded by the NIH and private foundations. In addition to Vice President for Research and Chief Research Officer, Dr. Urban is Vice Dean for Clinical Research in the John Sealy School of Medicine, Professor of Internal Medicine, Director of the Institute for Translational Sciences, and Fellow, John P. McGovern Distinguished Chair in Oslerian Medicine.

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Growth hormone alleviates some long covid symptoms UTMB study shows

Growth hormone injections significantly improved the neurologic symptoms of patients suffering from long COVID, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The study results were published in Clinical & Translational Science and may provide hope to the nearly 7 percent of Americans the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates are currently dealing with long COVID.

UTMB’s researchers came across the possible solution when they compared the symptoms of those suffering from long-COVID – more formally known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection – to those experienced by patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“We noticed that long COVID patients with lingering symptoms of fatigue and brain fog look just like what we see in some traumatic brain injury patients that we study,” said Dr. Randall Urban, senior author and treating endocrinologist of the study and vice president for Research, chief research officer, and professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at UTMB.

While studying individuals with brain injury associated fatigue and altered cognition, also known by the acronym BIAFAC, the team found that patients with neurologic symptoms after traumatic brain injury also have reduced growth hormone secretion. In addition, giving these patients growth hormone treatment improves symptoms.

Although long COVID and brain injury associated fatigue and altered cognition have similar symptoms, it wasn’t clear if they also share hormonal differences. Earlier this year, the team published a study that showed long COVID patients also have lower growth hormone secretion compared to patients that recovered from COVID without lingering symptoms.

“The obvious next step for us was to see if growth hormone treatment improves symptoms in long COVID patients like it does in brain injury associated fatigue and altered cognition,” Urban said.

The team gave nine months of growth hormone treatment to 13 adults suffering from neurological symptoms at least six months after COVID and followed their response for the nine months of treatment and an additional three months after ending treatment. Study participants were given a series of questionnaires to monitor symptoms during the study at baseline, six, nine and 12 months.

“Subjects had significant improvement in self-reported measures of fatigue, depression, mood, and quality of life over the nine months when they received growth hormone but symptoms returned when treatment ended,” said Dr. Traver Wright, lead author on the study and professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at UTMB.

Although growth hormone treatment relieved symptoms, the researchers said it did not appear to resolve the underlying cause.

“The response to growth hormone treatment is promising, but patients may need long-term growth hormone treatment as we do for patients with brain injury associated fatigue and altered cognition,” Urban said.  “The results suggests that there may be a common mechanism that causes symptoms in both brain injury associated fatigue and altered cognition and long COVID patients, and warrants additional studies with larger, more diverse groups of participants.”

This study was funded by a grant from the Sealy & Smith Foundation. This study was conducted with the support of the Institute for Translational Sciences at UTMB, supported in part by a Clinical and Translational Science Award (2UL1TR001439-06) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health. Pfizer provided the recombinant human growth hormone (somatropin) and GENOTROPIN Pens used for this study.